This story was written for angel-gidget over on tumblr. She's an awesome artist, and I'm a writer, so we decided to exchange goods! She gets credit for the intriguing prompt that I got to work with. Hopefully I managed to not screw it up. Many thanks go out to Justine, who did the speedy beta work.
Warning: This fic contains explicit sexual content.
The first time it happened, Will thought he was dreaming. He had sat down with his much-abused copy of A Tale of Two Cities with every intention of losing himself in the woes of Sydney. But he must have fallen asleep because one moment he was beginning chapter two and the next he was standing in Jem's bedroom, a violin held loosely in his left hand and a bow in his right.
It felt strange, not because he had never held a violin in his life but because there was something unfamiliar about his body, as if he were slightly hunched or being weighed down. He felt uncomfortably warm, stifled by his own skin. How many damn fires were lit?
Will tried to turn around, but his feet held fast to the floor, motionless. For a moment, he found himself consumed with panic, as muscle-by-muscle he took inventory of his body and found it completely unresponsive. And yet he could feel his chest falling and rising—too quickly—and he could feel the hairs on the bow as his thumb brushed over them without his ever deciding to move it.
Then he was walking forward, the wooden floorboards beneath his feet just barely resisting his weight with each light step. As he neared the window, his reflection took shape in the dark, rain-damp glass. A familiar face. Pale eyes and paler hair. A slender, graceful build. The expression of quiet suffering.
What a bizarre dream. Will attempted lifting a hand to touch his—Jem's—face, but again there was no response. Instead, Jem sighed and lifted the violin to rest on his shoulder. The wood was cool against his feverish skin, and if Will felt a weakness in his hands, there was not the slightest tremor as the bow slid cleanly across the strings, eliciting a faint cry that quickly rose into the full, rolling sounds of a piece that reminded Will of Beethoven.
It was beautiful. Jem's playing always was. But Will had never experienced it quite like this. To feel what goes into the music—the desire and hopelessness—and what came afterward—the sense of escape that Will felt when reading any of the fictional volumes that littered shelves of his room. It was almost overwhelming. And yet…
Jem's eyes went to the box sitting on the mantle of the fireplace. The sight of it sent an itch crawling beneath his skin, a lit trail of gunpowder carrying a spark from the tips of his fingers straight to his gut, where the blast was contained as an aching pressure that could still be felt above the never-ceasing song of the violin. Jem shuddered and looked away.
He went on hurting and playing until Will felt lost somewhere between it all. No, there would be no rest tonight.
If ignorance is bliss, then knowing is a far keener opiate that you do not have the hope of waking up from.
[ - ] [ - ] [ - ]
The second time was no dream.
It was early afternoon, and Will had agreed to assist Gideon with a sparring demonstration for Cecily and Sophie. Jem and Tessa were gone for the day with Charlotte, looking at flowers and china for the wedding. Will was glad for the distraction of a sword of his hand. If he couldn't stop thinking about the ceremony that was just three weeks away, then at least he could pretend that he could.
He was balancing on the rafters, crouched on one of the low beams that ran from the east wall towards the middle of the room. Gideon was standing several feet beneath him with the girls just a few meters off. Sophie appeared wary while Cecily did a poor job of disguising her interest.
"When someone attacks you from above, they have the advantage of force, but you have the advantage of grounded legs. You can control how you fall and minimize injury. Or cause it." Gideon nodded up at Will. "When he lands on me, I'll roll—"
Gideon's voice disappeared. Or rather it turned into Charlotte's more clipped, authoritative alto as the stuffy training room was replaced by a sun-lit greenhouse lined with rows of blossoming flowers. The perfumed air was the first thing Will noticed. The second was Tessa's arm looped through his. He tried to turn his head to look at her properly but his body was unresponsive.
He was Jem again.
"…if the two of you continue browsing, I will go with Mr. Felding to discuss payment and delivery." Charlotte spared them a departing glance of vigilance and then made her way out of the greenhouse in the company of short, stout man who seemed to have something to say about every plant they passed. When they had disappeared from sight, Tessa sighed and looked up at Jem with a bemused smile that was so frank, Will couldn't help but be put at ease by it in spite of the unprecedented strangeness of the situation.
"Do you really think that floral arrangements can affect the appetites of guests?"
Jem shook his head. "It's a shame he didn't tell us which color would induce them to eat Bridget's potato pudding."
Tessa laughed and drew away to examine the bunches of cut flowers in vases on a table. Jem watched her go while absently picking a fallen petal stuck in the thorns of a rose bush. It was crushed silk between his fingertips.
Tessa leaned in to take in the fragrance of some white lilies. "Do you have a favorite? There are so many."
Jem watched her peruse the flowers a moment longer before making his way over. He leaned his cane against the table and came up behind her, a hand on her waist. Even amongst the competing scents of the greenhouse, Tessa's scent stood out like a familiar beacon. "Would you be disappointed if I told you that the flowers are of little consequence to me?"
"Honestly?" She straightened, which caused her hair to tickle Jem's neck and the heat of her back to warm his chest even through modest layers of clothes. "I would be relieved. They're beautiful but—this is pretty."
She had caught sight of the petal Jem was holding onto and caressed it with a single careful finger.
"It reminds me of you." He raised their joined hands to brush the petal fleetingly along her lips.
Tessa's breath caught, and Will could sense the change in her. The sudden tension in her body, the heat crawling up the back of her neck. And when she turned in Jem's arms, her eyes had that wide, expectant look which had always been too inviting for Will to disappoint. Faced with it now, Jem demonstrated just as little restraint.
He dipped his head and met her with a kiss.
For an overwhelming moment, Will was kissing Tessa. He was holding her as he had been aching to for weeks, and she felt and tasted exactly as he remembered. There was no curse to bridal the feelings he wanted to share or the words he wanted to whisper to her as soon as he had the strength to pull away.
Then he tried to push his hand back into her hair and couldn't.
Because Will may have been kissing Tessa, but Tessa was not kissing him.
Jem. She was kissing Jem.
Will tried pulling away, tried opening his eyes. But Tessa's arms went around Jem's neck as if to keep him there, unknowingly forcing Will closer to what he wanted to escape—her mouth parting beneath Jem's, his hands clutching the flare of her hips, her sigh of contentment.
Behind them, someone cleared his throat and everything disappeared as quickly as a book being snapped closed.
When Will came back to himself, he was lying face-up on the training room floor with the distinct feeling that he'd fallen from a great height. Cecily and Gideon were crouched over him, looking concerned.
"What happened?" Will muttered.
"You fell," Gideon offered.
"Yes,"—he winced—"I can feel that."
"And then you just sort of lied there for a few seconds," Cecily continued and brushed his bangs back out of his face with a flick of her fingers. "But even though your eyes were closed, I could tell they were moving. Like you were having a dream."
"I wasn't dreaming." Despite the aching protest of his body, Will moved into a sitting position, forcing Gideon and Cecily to move back. "I must have had something bad for lunch. That must be it. Bridget has tried to poison me. Again. I think I'll send Charlotte a strongly worded note on the matter."
Cecily narrowed her eyes at him. "Will—"
"Don't worry. I won't ask that she be dismissed. Merely flogged. Gently."
"It had nothing to do with what you ate," Cecily said sharply. "What happened?"
A practiced retort was ready on his tongue, but it already felt hollow. Instead, Will unsteadily got to his feet. "Nothing. It was nothing."
[ - ] [ - ] [ - ]
"You have to make it stop." Hat-in-hand, Will paced up and down the rug before the fireplace.
Magnus, whose new residence near the East End was decidedly less glamorous than Camille's lavish home, lounged on an antique sofa—the only furniture in the room—in a velvet-trimmed housecoat. Between his fingers was something that looked like a cigarette but emitted a curling trail of purple smoke. Magnus was blowing rings of it into the air.
"I told you there were no certainties. This sort of magic has never been used in this way before. Especially not long-term."
"There has to be something." Will shoved a hand through his already ruffled hair. "I can't keep disappearing into Jem's consciousness whenever the bloody universe decides it would be fun. That wasn't the point of the spell, and it's—"
"Painful." Will stopped in front of Magnus. "Can't you put up some sort of block to keep me in here?" He tapped his head with the brim of his hat.
Magnus took another draw of purple smoke and let it escape slowly from his lips like midnight mist spilling over the banks of a river. "No. I can't. You'll have to learn to live with it."
Will's lips thinned into a straight line. "And what if it happens in the middle of a fight? I would drop to the ground like a prepared meal for any demon within salivating distance."
"Then I guess you should start carrying some seasoning in your pocket." Magnus's cat eyes flickered over him. "A nice marinade, perhaps. You are looking rather dry."
"This isn't a joke," Will snapped. "You're the one who cast the shoddy spell, so you're the one who should be able to—"
Magnus rose abruptly to his feet. Even in slippers he was taller than Will, who had to lift his chin to meet the Warlock's piercing gaze. "You lied to me. You told me that Jem had agreed to the bond. It was selfish of you to do this without his consent. This is one curse you've brought upon yourself."
"Selfish?" Will asked angrily. "I'm doing this to save his life."
"Because you need him."
"Because he deserves to be happy. More than anyone." More than me.
For several moments, Magnus did nothing but peer down at Will as if he were words printed on a page, black on white, exposed to anyone with the time to spare a glance. Will imagined his story would be fairly straightforward. Something about a boy who unknowingly had every opportunity presented to him but didn't reach for them until after they'd been passed on to someone else.
Finally, Magnus moved away toward the hearth. He tossed his cigarette into the flames, eliciting a small shower of sparks. "How do you know that this is what he would choose? Do you really believe he wants to go on living the desperate life of addiction? Slowly suffering more and more but never dying? Never getting peace?"
Will suddenly felt very tired. "Yes. As long as he has Tessa, that is what he would want."
"Then tell him about the bond."
"I can't." Will shook his head. "If he knew how it affected me, he would say it wasn't worth it. He would make me reverse it."
Arms crossed, Magnus leaned back against the mantle. "It can't be reversed. The bond is permanent."
"Then he would make you create another one, one that would let me draw strength from him. But he's not strong enough. The bond…it can be draining."
"Shouldn't he be the one to make that decision?" At Will's contrary look, Magnus continued, "The reason that this worked at all is because you and Jem are parabatai. All Shadowhunters receive protective wards when they are young to help guard their minds from magical or demonic penetration. A Shadowhunter's mind is meant to be his alone. But as parabatai, you and Jem have access to parts of each other that no one else does. It is a powerful bond. That is why I was able to bind another part of him to you and why Jem will live so long as you are alive to anchor him to this world."
Will turned away. "Spare me the speech."
"It would be a terrible shame," Magnus said evenly, "to let such a bond wither under the weight of lies and kept secrets."
[ - ] [ - ] [ - ]
Sunlight was slanting down through the trees. Will felt it in patches on his face and hands. He was not familiar with this part of the park, but Jem walked the paths as easily as if he'd done it a dozen times before.
"If I close my eyes," Tessa murmured, "I can almost imagine that I am back in New York." And she did close her eyes, allowing him to lead her along while she basked in the exceptional weather that had blown in late that morning. With her free hand, she fingered the jade pendent around her neck.
"Do you wish you were there now?"
"Perhaps," she said after a moment's consideration, "if things were different. If I were not so certain that Mortmain is planning something awful and that I am somehow involved in it. And if I had not met you. I cannot imagine being there now, when you are here."
The words, as simple as they were, affected Jem. Will could feel something knocked loose inside of him, pieces slipping about before falling surely into place. For a moment, he stopped walking before remembering himself and carrying on. It was several moments before he spoke again. "Would you want to return there? After the wedding and after Mortmain is stopped?"
Tessa looked at him in surprise. "And leave London? Your home?"
"I told you," Jem said equably, "you are my home now. If you would be happier back in America…"
"But what about Charlotte and Henry? In a few months the baby will be here. And Will. You couldn't leave Will."
"No," –Jem shook his head—"I couldn't." He grinned. "But I think Will could be induced to travel abroad. If only for a little while." When Tessa still seemed at a loss, Jem ran a gloved hand over her knuckles. "It was only a question. I did not mean to imply that you could not be just as happy here in London."
"I know." Tessa leaned into him. "But I am not sure I belong in New York. My memories of home seem almost unreal, like a story I was told but never actually lived. It feels as if that was another life. Another Tessa."
Jem led her through the grass, away from the shadows of the tree-lined walk and into the direct sunlight. She was even more beautiful there, as if the sun favored her, and Will was overwhelmed by the feeling that he was truly seeing her for the first time. Her face fit perfectly between Jem's hands. "There is only one Tessa. And she is very dear to me."
"James. Miss Grey."
Jem's hands fell away. Will recognized the pompous drawl immediately. Gabriel Lightwood had approached the couple in all his well-coiffed glory, chin lifted and that insufferable complacent look on his face.
Jem reclaimed Tessa's arm, his grip more firm that it had been before, though Will thought the gesture may have been subconscious. "Gabriel."
"I wish to offer my congratulations," Gabriel said. "I understand that the Clave has agreed to allow your union, and you are to be married."
"Thank you." The civil words were pried from Will's mouth, and he silently cursed Jem for making him have any part in the undeserved courtesy.
"I also heard that the ceremony will be held in just two weeks from now. A short engagement, but I understand why you would desire to make haste—"
"Was there something you needed to speak with us about?" There.
Gabriel withdrew an envelope from the pocket of his waistcoat. He looked down at it and then hesitantly offered it for Jem to take. "This is a message for Gideon."
"Why not give it to him yourself?" asked Jem as he accepted the letter.
"I cannot." Gabriel shook his head. "I know that you are a gentleman, James, and will deliver it to my brother unopened."
A slight inclination of his head signaled Jem's acquiescence.
"He misses you," Tessa said suddenly. "He still wishes you would come to the Institute. We all do."
Gabriel, slightly taken aback by her frankness, seemed uncertain about how to respond. "I…that…Gideon knows why it must be this way."
"It's alright if you change your mind," Tessa continued softly. "Family has a way of failing you like no one else can." She slid her hand down to twine with Jem's. "But not all family is blood."
[ - ] [ - ] [ - ]
The doors to the Institute swung open, and Tessa rushed through, her skirts gathered in her hands as she descended the steps. She stopped just short of Jem, who was propped unsteadily between Will and Gideon, and gently touched the long rip across the front of his hunting gear. Her fingers came away stained red.
A small, pained smile slipped sideways onto Jem's lips. "Don't look so horrified. The cut is shallow."
Tessa frowned but moved out of the way so that the three boys could move inside. Will could see the concern written plainly in the crease between her eyebrows. "Was it more of the clockwork creatures?"
"No," Gideon answered. "Demons. The kind that thrive in the slums. They've grown arrogant since the Clave has been distracted by the Magister. They show up farther and farther west."
As they began ascending the stairs to the second floor, Sophie was coming down them, a basket of laundry in her hands. She gaped at the group of them.
"Sophie," Tessa said quickly, "we'll be needing bandages and—"
"Yes. Right away." And she was off.
Will sighed and readjusted Jem's arm around his neck as they continued their way up. "The fool jumped between me and a blow from one of them."
"I'm right here," said Jem. He was panting with the effort to maintain even their sluggish pace. Will felt his lethargy tug at his own strength, siphoning small bits and pieces of him away.
"Would you prefer for me to address the comment to you directly? Fine. You're a bloody fool, James."
"Will," Tessa admonished, but it was half-hearted. She was distracted, looking back over her shoulder at Jem every few steps as if afraid he would disappear.
He can't die, Will wanted to reassure her, but he kept quiet and helped Jem through the door to his room. Once they got Jem into bed, Gideon left to assist Sophie in gathering what they would need to attend him. Tessa took his place beside the bed, and, without the slightest hint of modesty, began to remove Jem's ruined clothes.
"If the wound is shallow, why are you in so much pain?" she asked. "Can you not be healed with one of your runes?"
Jem shook his head. A sheen of sweat dampened his brow and flushed cheeks. "Demon poison."
Tessa carefully set his folded, bloodied shirt on the bedside table and then hesitated over the box of yin fen. "Do you need—"
He caught her wrist. "No." His chest rose and fell rapidly with shallow breaths. "Just you."
She allowed him to draw her down onto the bed so that she was sitting at his side. Will took a step back to avoid her full skirts.
At that moment, Sophie appeared with Gideon following close behind carrying a pot of water. She looked nervously at the wound across Jem's stomach and then at Tessa. "Shall I clean it?"
"No, that's alright. I think I can manage. Thank you."
A look passed between the two women, something inexplicable to Will but clearly understood by the both of them because Sophie didn't argue. She handed the bandages to Tessa and had Gideon place the water on a stool at her feet. As she turned to leave, Sophie held out a small jar for Will to take. "It will need to be applied every few hours."
He nodded and swallowed back the habitual goading comment he didn't need to deliver anymore.
"He's in good hands," said Gideon as he somewhat awkwardly clasped Will's shoulder as he passed towards the door. "Let me know if anything changes."
And with that, the three of them were once again alone, Jem lying still and exchanging quiet words with Tessa as she dabbed at the cut with a damp cloth. It was strange watching them like this. As if one of his senses had been turned off. He could see and hear, but he could not feel the warmth of Tessa's hand against Jem's skin, could not experience the shiver her touch provoked. There was no rush of contentment at having even this small moment of intimacy. He did not get to share in their simple satisfaction of being together.
He felt cold. Locked out. For the first time, he wondered whether his place was here at Jem's side.
"Will? The ointment."
He moved forward automatically, offering the glass jar Sophie had given him. But Tessa had already moved. She stood and began unraveling a bandage, leaving Will to take her place at Jem's side. He sat down hesitantly.
"Don't feel the need to hurry on my account." Jem's eyes were shining. "It will take at least three hours for the poison to cause any permanent damage."
"Just remember who jumped in front of the giant demon claw."
"You did. I merely followed your lead."
"Yes, and stole my glory while you were at it." Will took a clean rag and dipped it into the salve. "I imagine you had this all planned. Lying around while Tessa fusses and weeps over you. Well, I can safely say, miss, he's not worth your tears. Not this attention-grasping scoundrel."
"If I shed any tears tonight it will because Jem has a parabatai who would shamelessly hide behind him as if he were a shield."
Jem laughed, disrupting Will's efforts to apply the salve to his wound. Aghast, Will turned open-mouthed to Tessa. "Hiding? Hiding? I certainly was not hiding. On the contrary, I was acting quite heroically and brandishing a sword. James, tell her how I was brandishing my sword."
Jem's chuckles died into a pained groan. "Indeed, he was. Quite valiantly. Simply in the wrong direction."
"The wrong direction," Will muttered to himself and returned his attention to Jem's cut. "When you're cornered by three demons, there is no wrong direction." When he was done with the medication, he helped Jem sit up so that Tessa could secure the bandage around his middle. And just like that, Will was back inside them again, breathing the same air, feeling the same fevered heat, and living the same moment.
[ - ] [ - ] [ - ]
An hour later, Will was back in Jem's room. Only there was a gentle burning in his gut, and his fingers were itching for the curves of a violin. He was drifting somewhere between the coaxing lull of sleep and the desire to defy the weakness of his own body.
He did not notice the door to the room open until Tessa was padding her way towards the bed in her dressing gown. As if it were quite customary, she climbed onto the far side and then slid over until she was lying beside him on top of the blankets. Jem raised his arm so that she could tuck herself against his body. With a soft sigh of contentment, she rested her cheek against his chest. "How do you feel?"
"Do you want me to leave?"
"Someday you will realize how unnecessary that question is."
Her lips curved in a smile against his skin. "I will stay until you fall asleep then."
"That's not much incentive for me to get rest." His fingers were softly strumming across her shoulder in a way that left Will certain Jem was coaxing from her the same comfort he found from the strings of his violin. "I hope I didn't upset you. Coming back like that."
"You were hurt. Of course it upset me." She began tracing the hollow of his collar bone. "But I wasn't frightened. I can tell how seriously you're hurt by looking at Will. Tonight he wasn't worried. Upset, maybe, that you risked your life but not worried you wouldn't recover."
"He would have done the same for me."
Tessa's fingers stilled. "I know."
[ - ] [ - ] [ - ]
He was drunk. So were several other men who had attended the night's festivities, but they had stumbled into their carriages red-faced with laughter and riding the social high that came with celebrating the marriage of two happily matched people. Will was making his way back to his room with nothing but the stone wall and his balance rune keeping him on his feet. He did not feel like laughing, or singing, or even speaking. He did not want to feel anything. He only wanted to sleep with the possibility of waking up somewhere else, a place far from here.
It took several attempts to get his door open, but then he was falling inside, trying to remember where he had put the sleeping draught he'd bought the day before. A strong one, too, for this exact occasion. He was not going to stay up all night reliving the ceremony in his head, hearing their vows circling his head.
"I, James Jian Cartairs…"
"I, Theresa Elizabeth Gray…"
"…do thee wed…"
He searched through the clothes on the floor, clumsily checking the pockets. When he'd exhausted those, he clambered back to his feet and went to the open wardrobe. But as he pushed aside the first jacket, he felt a distinct tug at the back of his skull. He vision went black and then cleared with a blink. The brief lapse of consciousness had become familiar to him over the last weeks.
"No," Will muttered. "Not now." He stumbled into the table beside his bed, clutching at his head. That vial. Where was that damned vial?
He was slipping away. Even as he stubbornly fought to keep his body, bits of him were leaving and going someplace else.
It started coming in flashes. The smell of her perfume. The bed beneath his knees. Long hair caught around his fingers. A small breast filling the palm of his hand.
Will flung open the drawer and snatched the tiny glass vial inside.
The pulse dancing beneath his mouth.
The tepid liquid spilled down this throat.
Warm thighs around his hips. Blunt fingernails digging into his shoulder blades. Grey eyes.
Will slid down the wall of his room when his legs could no longer hold him. Mercifully, the world began to fade away until the last thing he heard was James' name as nothing more than a breath on Tessa's lips.
[ - ] [ - ] [ - ]
"Charlotte says you've been sleeping a lot."
Will rolled over in his bed, blinked the sleep from his eyes, and took in the sight of Jem sitting beside him in an arm chair Will found only vaguely familiar. "You're back."
"We got in this morning."
"You're in my room."
"Yes, well, you always show up in my room whenever you please. It would be rude not to return the visit every once in a while."
Will grabbed one of his pillows and pressed it over his face. "It's also rude to wake a man who was in the middle of a very pleasant dream."
"A world without ducks?"
"Belly dancers. Big ones." Throwing the blanket and pillow aside, Will got to his feet. He picked his away across the littered floor to the wash basin that was still half-full from the other night. He splashed a handful of water onto his face. "How was Spain?"
"Warm. Sunny. Spanish."
"As advertized then."
"There was a great deal to see," Jem continued. "Even you would have been impressed by the mosques. And Tessa enjoyed the libraries immensely. If she had had her way, I think she would have slept right there in the stacks."
The obvious fondness in Jem's voice had Will turning to look at him properly for the first time since he and Tessa had left for their honeymoon. There were the obvious changes: the longer hair, the darkened skin, the bruise just above the collar of his shirt. But there was something else, a less explicable difference. It was something in the way that he was sitting, Will thought. As if he were likely to stand at any moment and simply stride across the room just because he could. He did not look settled there.
Will hesitated. "Were you able to find another supplier of yin fen?"
Jem's smile fell, and Will immediately regretted posing the question. It could have waited until later, after they had settled back into the old routine.
"Yes. They are not experiencing the same shortage we've encountered here." Jem looked out the window, peering at nothing but the grey sky. "Of course, it will cost a good deal to get it shipped here reliably, but it would be more expensive not to pay."
"You will have your salary from the Clave soon," Will said, feeling the need to sooth him since he had been the one to broach the unpleasant subject. "And I will being receiving mine not long after. We can afford it."
"Yes. And I am taking less of it now anyway."
Will took a step toward him. "Jem, it's not worth—"
"You know," Jem said gently, his eyes sliding back to Will, "most of the time I feel trapped. I think that this,"—he held out his arms—"could not possibly be my body. I am stronger than this. I am faster. More capable. Someone has put me in here, and there is nothing I can do to get out."
Will dropped his gaze to the floor.
Jem sighed. "For years I've watched life happening to the people around me. I've seen them going places, making plans for things that would not happen the next day or even the day after. And all the while, I've simply been waiting because there was never a point in having plans." Jem paused but then continued nostalgically, "I think that's why I took to you when I first arrived. You weren't making plans either. You were as sure of your imminent death as I was of mine."
Will nodded curtly. He had been purposely reckless with his life. He had thought that if he demonstrated little enough care for his well-being, then no one else would bother to care for it either. Of course, that had turned out to all be rather pointless.
"But with Tessa," Jem went on, "I don't feel as if I'm waiting anymore. This is living. I thought I was waiting for death, but really…I was waiting for her. She gives me more life than that drug ever could."
Will looked back up at him. "I know. I see how she's changed you, how better off you are now."
Jem rose from the chair. "You are my parabatai. You said once I could ask anything of you."
"You know you can."
Jem rested both his hands on the head of his cane. "When I die—"
"When I die, I want to make sure that she is not left alone. You are my brother and that makes her your family as much as she is mine. That is why I am asking you to look after her once I am gone. I wouldn't trust anyone else to do it."
Will stared back at Jem, and the words were on the tip of his tongue. All of them. Everything he hadn't said, every closely guarded secret, was there, fighting to slip free. Selfishly, he wanted Jem to know, to see him for what he truly was and still be able to look at him with that same unyielding faith in his eyes. He wanted to know Jem would love him in spite of it all.
"Of course I will."
[ - ] [ - ] [ - ]
Will opened his eyes to the sight of a werewolf leaning over him—a young woman with a small face and a shabby dress. "Where am I?"
"The alley 'hind the tailor's. You was walkin' out when all o' sudden ya's fell over jus' all o' sudden. Course ya's got yer glamour and nobody could see ya 'cept me, so they's was just walkin' right ove' yas. Jus' a bump on the road."
"Right over me?"
"And you pulled me over here?"
She shrugged. "I's stronger than I gots the look of."
"Indeed," Will muttered and stiffly got to his feet. The woman shrank away until he held out a coin for her to take. "For your trouble."
She looked at it hesitantly. "Is ya sick?"
"Not with anything you could catch."
She inched closer. "A Nephilim's illness?"
Reaching out, she plucked the offering from his fingers and then hurried on her way. Will straightened his wrinkled, dirty jacket and promptly turned in the direction of home. It was only a quarter hour's walk back to the Institute, and when Will arrived, Sophie was at the door waiting for him.
"Mr. Wayland is to arrive at any time now. Mrs. Branwell is going over some final preparations with Bridget, but she instructed me to make sure you were presentable and on time for dinner."
"Ah." Will moved past her. "Then it seems your job is already complete. Well done."
Sophie frowned in displeasure. "But, Sir, you're covered top to bottom in mud."
"You think the Consul would find my appearance very offensive, then?"
Sophie, clearly at loss for how to properly respond, stared helplessly as he marched past her. But Tessa, who was descending the stairs, headed him off. "Will? What on earth happened? I thought you were going for a fitting. Were you attacked?"
Will gritted his teeth. "In a very liberal sense of the word."
Tessa looked worried. "But you're not hurt?"
"No more than usual."
The curt response brought Tessa up short. As if she understood his meaning quite perfectly, she went still and paled until the pink of her cheeks stood out like roses in snow. "Will, if there is anything I could do…"
"You can make my excuses to Consul Wayland. I am tired and will be unable to attend dinner this evening." He stopped at the foot of the stairs, but Tessa did not move aside to let him pass.
"You've been tired so frequently," she said. "It's been going on for weeks. Are you certain you aren't ill?"
"What I am suffering from at the moment is suffocation," Will said loudly enough for Sophie to hear as well, "the remedy to which you currently hold the key,"—he bowed—"Mrs. Carstairs."
She hesitated and then stepped out of his way.
[ - ] [ - ] [ - ]
It was mid-day, but overhead the skies were overcast with rolling clouds that hid the sun and cast the woods in a murky blue light. Between the trees, there were no shadows, no movement, no sound. Until all at once, there was a cacophony of raised voices.
"There! No, left! Through there!"
Right here, Will wanted to say as Tessa collided with Jem, her arms going around him in a desperate embrace.
"Are you alright?"
"I'm fine." Jem's eyes darted from the top of her head to Gideon, Gabriel, and then Cecily. All four of them were breathless and smeared with dirt. Gabriel was bleeding from a cut on his cheek. "Will isn't with you?"
Tessa drew back quickly. "He didn't meet us at the well. We thought he had gone after you."
Jem shook his head. "No. I haven't seen him since we went separate ways an hour ago."
Tessa's hand went to the handle of the dagger at her hip. "We need to find him."
Bent over with his hands on his knees, Gabriel looked up at her incredulously. "You want to go back to where we were nearly sliced into ribbons? It's suicide. Will's a capable hunter. He can manage on his own."
Will didn't find that very likely given that his body was lying uninhabited by a creek half a kilometer away.
Cecily scoffed. "Cowardice is a terribly unattractive trait, Mr. Lightwood."
"And sentimentality is a hideously—"
"Jem," Gideon broke in, "Gabriel is right. We cannot go back now. We are outnumbered and need reinforcements. If we keep going and meet with the others, then we can double back before nightfall."
Tessa was shaking her head. "That will take too long. He could be in trouble now."
"We will all be in trouble if we do not consider—"
"We're not leaving without him," Jem said, and his tone left no room for argument. "The rest of you are welcome to leave, but Tessa and I are going back."
Shoulders squared, Cecily stepped forward. "So am I."
Will began to fall away.
[ - ] [ - ] [ - ]
Tessa was moving above him. Around him.
Her hair was loose and messy, falling around her shoulders and down her back in unwashed curls and kinks. There were remnants of sleep in her eyes even she rolled her hips to meet his again and again. She placed her hands flat on his chest and took him in deeper.
He moaned and her lips quirked up with a private fondness. "This is your favorite? Why?"
"I can watch you," he heard Jem answer. His hands slid from Tessa's hips and up her sides, allowing Will to feel long inches of smooth, yielding skin. His thumbs brushed the undersides of her breast. "And touch you."
Tessa leaned forward until his hands were full of her. Slowly, they rocked in tandem. A pretty pink color spread across her cheeks as she began to pant.
By the angel. He could do this forever. Have Tessa every morning and every night and see her like this…pleasing her like this.
"Tell me yours." Jem sounded breathless. Will felt breathless.
"Tell me which way you prefer."
The pink in her face burned red. "It's your birthday."
He caressed her nipple until it was hard against his finger. "And I want to know."
Tessa bit her lip and closed her eyes but kept moving against him steadily. "The other night. After you got back late from a hunt and you…"—she gasped and made a sound low in her throat as her hips twitched—"…had me on my back. You were…fast and hard, and I could barely keep up…And then you touched me…" She lifted a trembling hand from his chest to the juncture of her spread legs.
For once, Jem's body did exactly as Will desired it to. Tessa was wide-eyed and lying beneath him in a fraction of a second. He took control of the pace, forcing her deep into the mattress until they were sinking into it. Jem moved swiftly. His fingers found their way between their joined bodies with familiar ease, and Tessa's breath hitched with approval. "Yes. Like that…but you…you have to say it…"
Tessa's body was soft and strong beneath him, just as he had always imagined in would be. Soft because her body willingly gave way to his and strong because she was real and did her best to meet his hips and his mouth as they descended on her over and over.
Tessa's fingers slipped over the damp skin on the back of his neck. "Say it."
"Wo ai ni, Tessa. Wo ai ni."
[ - ] [ - ] [ - ]
Will held little fondness for children. They were small, noisy, and required near-constant supervision. To say he found their helplessness disquieting would have been an understatement. He had not been around more than one or two around children since he had ceased to be a child himself. Their limited mobility made them easy to avoid, and, conveniently enough, they didn't often frequent pubs or Downworlder clubs.
Henry and Charlotte's new son was less easily evaded. Even in a place as large as the Institute, there was always a good chance that when Will walked into a room, someone would be inside, holding the tiny, squirming mass. Henry had even fashioned a sort of sling that strapped the child across his chest so that they could easily go around 'seeing everything'—although Will had a strong suspicion that newly born humans were as blind as newly born pups.
So Will was not surprised when, upon entering the library, he found Tessa idly pacing the stacks with Alexander bouncing gently in her arms.
"This one isn't good at all, so you won't want to bother with it unless you have a fondness for discouraging endings. And here is Dickens, who always makes the pain worth it. You'll feel terrible for most of his characters but sometimes happiness requires terrible sacrifices. Sydney, for example…Oh, Will, how long have you been standing there?"
"You don't think that Dickens is a bit dense for him? For goodness' sake, he's only a few weeks old. Don't they usually start them with single letters?"
"It's never too soon to be introduced to quality literature. My first word was 'book.'"
"Mine was 'chocolate.'" Will moved from the doorway to where she was standing
If he had been Jem or Henry, she would have offered to let him take Alexander. But like the others, she had quickly caught on to his discomfiture around the Institute's newest member. So she continued to hold the baby gently, arms folded beneath him in a natural cradle that kept his small, red face lifted.
"His will probably be 'lever,'" Tessa mused fondly and stroked Alexander's hand with her thumb.
For a moment Will forgot that he was not Jem. He reached out and brushed back the lock of hair that had fallen into her face, letting his fingers linger against the soft skin of her temple. Her eyes snapped up to his, eyes that had become so familiar to him he could fill pages with words describing how they looked at any given moment. Today, the grey was soft like rainclouds and flecked with pieces of blue sky.
"You do not call me Tess anymore."
He may have been imagining the hurt in her voice, slight as it was, but even the thought of it was enough to tug at his heart. "I do," he whispered. "But only when you cannot hear."
Her lips parted then, and Will did not have to imagine what it would be like to kiss them. He knew she would taste like Yorkshire tea and Jem, and that if he caught her off guard, she would clutch at his shirt to steady herself. He knew, and somehow that only made it worse.
A bit of firelight caught the engraving on the jade pendant around her neck—her wedding gift from Jem. The Chinese characters elegantly immortalized words from the Shadowhunter wedding ceremony: There is a force and strength in love. Will never saw her without it on.
The pendant had fallen forward onto Alexander's chest. His arm caught the gold chain.
"Do you ever regret it?" Will asked.
Tessa untangled the necklace and gave Alexander her finger to hold instead. When she looked back at Will, she smiled softly, though her eyes were sad. "Never."
- fin -